Okay, so maybe I can't see Alaska from my apartment, but I can DEFINITELY see Russia!!! crazy-ness!!! Here's an summary of my first four days in St. Petersburg: The airplane rides were fairly uneventful, thank goodness. I sat next to a Russian lady from Frankfurt to St. Pete's and at first she started talking to me in Russian, but when I looked at her with a bleary eyed, confused look, she quickly understood I did not speaka her language. :) We landed in St. Pete's and it only took about 5 minutes for me to understand that really, NO ONE smiles here. It's been the hardest thing to adjust to, I'm used to at least half smiling at anyone I meet eyes with, but you don't even do that here! It's super weird. Anyway, I then met my host dad: Roman. He doesn't speak much English, and he wants me to correct him when he tries and makes mistakes. Mostly he just mutters in Russian to me, calls to his wife and then he ends up typing into a translator on his computer. I am so grateful for technology, I would be lost here without it. My host mom is Julia, but the longest time I thought it was "U-la" because that's how they pronounce it. It wasn't until they gave me a cell phone so I could be in touch with them that I realized her real name. They also have a song, Yurislav, but he goes by Yurik. He is 5 and super adorable, too bad he is way too shy to talk around me still. The first time we met his mom told him to say hello and he popped up and did say it in English to me, which melted my heart, but now whenever I talk to him he just looks at me. Haha :D I hope he warms up to me soon though, he's got one of those rugs that have roads all over it for your toy cars and pretty sure I wanna play on it with him. My host mom is also pregnant and just starting to show her baby bump!
Our first day, we had to ride the metro about 15 minutes into the city in order to get more pictures taken for our new multiple entry visas. Meaning, we can travel outside of Russia, and not be stuck outside of Russia, which would be a big bummer. It's rude to smile with your teeth for official documents here, so all of our pictures are mug shots... not attractive. We also stopped at the institute (not religious, academic) where we will be taking Russia lessons for 4 hours every Tuesday morning. Should be really fun! This language is beautiful, but so hard. I hope I can at least master some basics so I can have a simple conversation in Russian. We also ate blini, which is basically just Russian crepes, they're really good though :) The rest of the day was spent planning because....
The next day I had to teach!!! Me, and two of the other volunteers were asked to teach at a private kindergarten about an hour away from us. So every Mon, Wed, and Fri morning the 3 of us hop on the metro, transfer about 6 stops down to the purple line, 5 more stops from there we get onto bus K-232 (which is more like a van) and then walk down the road to the school. Quite the adventure, to be sure. The first day there were only 2 girls in our class, but they were adorable! Their names were: Maria and Leeda. We taught them how to say our names and Maria loved mine. She kept coming up to me and holding my hand and giving me hugs, then she would look up at me and just say my name. Completely stole my heart!!! It was hard to keep the lesson going because I just wanted to play with them so badly! By then end of the time though they were modeling full sentences and telling us "I want blue (or whatever color)" when they wanted a marker. It was so cute. We also sang Popcorn Popping and 5 Little Ducks with them, while they couldn't get all the words, Leeda at least tried by mumbling. Both loved all the hand actions though and followed us to a T.
Not all of my lessons will be like this though, when I go to the school next week, I'll be teaching young kids like that 3 days a week, and then an Elementary Level 5 on Tuesday and Thursday nights with another volunteer. Level 5 kids are age 11 and are doing more advanced language skills including spelling tests and homework assignments. It's not as much playing, but I think it will be a lot of fun since the kids will be able to communicate with us much more.
Last night, our cultural coordinator, Sveta, came over to our head teacher's apartment to teach us how to make blini. It was so much fun! We were all crammed into the small kitchen trying to cover the blini in as much peanut butter and nutella as possible. Delicioso! Hahaha :D I love all the people I volunteer with, they are all so nice and absolutely hilarious. A few of us went to the Okay store yesterday (like a Russian Wal-Mart) and we were all laughing so hard about the silliest things! It makes us stand out a little more, but so far we haven't had any problems with that. I actually feel pretty safe here. Nothing too crazy yet, but it hasn't even been a week :)
Okay, FOOD. Something I was so nervous about! So far the worst thing I've had was buckwheat, it tasted burnt and dirty all at once. I ate it so as not to be rude, but man was it nasty! Mostly I get a lot of pasta from my host family, with make-shift meatballs. There is never sauce on the pasta though, they eat it plain.. which is weird. At my home, my mom serves it with ketchup and mayonnaise so I usually put some ketchup on there for flavoring. That's the biggest thing: NOTHING HAS ANY FLAVOR. We finally had some soup yesterday that did, and we tried to douse all of our food in it so that it would all taste good. Too bad that she only brought a small pot of the soup :( Other than that, everything has been pretty decent. Haven't had to revert to McDonalds yet!
I forgot to talk about my living situation a little more. I live on the 9th floor of a pretty nice apartment building. I was nervous at first because the buildings around it, not gonna lie, look soooo super sketchy. There is a door you have to have a computer key to open, and then you get on the elevators (in a pink and green room like the 50's) up to floor 9. Then there is a huge door you have to have another key for, then you lock it behind you. That puts you in the hallway to a whole bunch of apartments, mine is the first on the right. Two more keys to unlock 2 more locks and I'm finally in my apartment. I think all the doors serve as extra protection, both from crazy people and the cold :) My apartment is really nice though! I was surprised. haha. It is small though too. Two bedrooms a TV room, kitchen and 1 and 1/2 baths. I share a room with Yarik, but at least I have my own comfortable bed, with big blanket and honkin' pillow. The first few nights I COULD NOT for the life of me sleep through the night. The 2nd night I woke up at 4:00 am and was up until 7:30. The next night I woke up at 3:30 and fell asleep again at 8. Last night though! I finally went to bed at 11:45 pm and woke up to my alarm at 8AM. Oh happy day :) It felt so good! I also got a hairdryer yesterday so I finally got to actually do my hair today :)
That's all for now! I'll update again soon :)